Title: The Greatcoat
Author: Helen Dunmore
Publisher: Hammer Books
Publication Date: Feb 2012
Format: ARC, 208 pages
Genre: Horror, Ghost, Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed by Carolyn
In the summer of 1954, newly wed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. Life is not easy: she feels out-of-place and constantly judged by the people around her, so she spends much of her time alone.
One cold winter night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard that she uses to help keep warm. Once wrapped in the coat she is beset by dreams. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled to hear a knock at her window, and to meet for the first time the intense gaze of a young Air Force pilot, handsome, blond and blue-eyed, staring in at her from outside.
His name is Alec, and his powerfully haunting presence both disturbs and excites Isabel. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin a delicious affair. But nothing could have prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on her own marriage. (Goodreads)
I was really looking forward to reading “The Greatcoat“. I was hoping it would be an atmospheric, romantic ghost story, and although very different, written with the same richness and depth as ‘The woman in Black’ by Susan Hill (my favourite ghost story of all time). Unfortunately, it didn’t really deliver.
” is a ghost story set in Yorkshire during the Second World War and the 1950s. It’s a strange little novella in that to me it didn’t have much of an atmosphere at all, which is what I expect from a ghost story. It wasn’t eerie or creepy. I did, however, think the author managed to capture the essence of Yorkshire quite well and I could visualise the house and street where Isabel and Phillip lived.Isabel and Phillip are married and move into a house with a rather grouchy landlady. Phillip is a doctor and is working long hours, leaving Isabel alone for long periods of time. The house is cold and one evening Isabel finds an old greatcoat, which she uses to keep warm, and thus begins the ghost story…I felt that all the characters were very superficial, especially Isabel. They didn’t have any depth to them and I didn’t get to know them at all. Isabel’s husband Philip and her lover (and ghost) Alec, were also a bit on the flat side and rather uninteresting. I didn’t care about them, which made the reading of this novel slightly hard going. The character that did pique my interest was Mrs Atkinson, the landlady.
The romance between Isabel and Alec just didn’t capture my imagination or my heart and unfortunately I didn’t become emotionally attached to either of them. Half the time I didn’t know who Isabel was and so I couldn’t fully invest in their relationship.
Isabel’s narrative was difficult to follow as it alternates between her true self and someone else entirely. I think I have an idea what the author was getting at, but ambiguity is not to my taste. There’s also a fair amount of repetitiveness with Isabel doing and saying the same things again and again. The structure of the story is also irritating as it jumps about far too much, which made it feel disjointed.
Although I didn’t particularly enjoy “The Greatcoat” I continued reading with the hope that the ending would make all the preceding pages worth while, but sadly the ending was abrupt and obscure.
Unfortunately “The Greatcoat” wasn’t what I expected, which was disappointing, and the writing style wasn’t to my taste. I couldn’t connect with the characters or their relationships with each other. However, this is just my personal opinion – you may love it!
RATING: 5/10 – take it or leave it
Helen Dunmore Online